Jason didn’t know what to do.
The 41-year-old Illinois native was out of options, living in makeshift homes in the woods off Royall Avenue. He lost his home again when the Goldsboro Police Department cleared the camp, which stretched from Sunburst Drive to Spence Avenue, early Saturday morning after issuing tickets for trespassing and littering.
“As far as I knew, we didn’t cause any problems or nothing,” said Jason, who declined to give his last name.
Struggling with anxiety and depression for months, Jason found himself homeless for the first time in his life after moving to North Carolina for a fresh start in 2016.
Unable to find steady work in the construction business, depleting his savings and battling depression, Jason landed in the homeless camp six weeks ago, where he intended to stay temporarily until he found a job and better housing.
“I’ve worked all my life, and I’ve never been homeless,” Jason said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been homeless.”
Jason was forced to relocate from the camp. Luckily, he found shelter at the Salvation Army, which was on scene assisting residents of the camp with temporary housing.
While the camp off Royall Avenue was known to the GPD and formed nearly two years ago, Goldsboro Chief of Police Mike West said officers planned to clear out the camp after a recent increase in complaints of crime and littering. The department discussed clearing the camp for nearly a month before issuing citations for trespassing and littering.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to do something, but like I said, this is a complaint-driven incident,” West said. “Crime in the area started picking up, some of the crime was connected with the individuals staying there, so we acted on that.”
LaToya Henry, public information officer for the city of Goldsboro, said GPD officers enforced a trespassing agreement with the owners of the property where the camp was located. She said each of the nine residents living in the camp at the time was charged with second-degree trespassing and littering.
West said the Salvation Army was not initially notified of the camp clearing, which caused some lapse in communication. He said the GPD wants to work with the Salvation Army in the future to ensure there is a way to help people who are homeless find shelter before tickets and making arrests.
“That’s not our ultimate goal, our ultimate goal is to try to help the people who need the help,” West said. “I’m satisfied that we did something. I think the communication between us and the Salvation Army could have been better, and I’ll take the responsibility for that.”
Capt. Sherrie Stokes, with the Salvation Army, visited the camp regularly over the last two years. The Salvation Army often worked with the residents to find shelters and offer assistance for mental health or drug addiction and provided blankets, pillows and clothes often.
The challenge the Salvation Army faces now is finding those who were displaced after the GPD cleared the camp and offering shelter among other necessities, Stokes said. On Saturday, the Salvation Army took in two residents of the camp, placed one with Cherry Hospital for mental health reasons and secured hotels for others, she said.
“(The Salvation Army) and the Goldsboro Police Department care for our homeless friends,” Stokes said. “We care for the homeless, we care for the business owners on Royall Avenue who have seen an increase in crime.
“But, I think it would be ignorant to say that crime has increased because of all the homeless in the area.”
Stokes said there is often a negative stigma against people who live in homeless camps. Homeless people are often associated with drugs and crime, but that is often not the case. She said it is important to remember many people who are homeless are veterans, children and regular people.
“There’s a stigma that everyone (who is homeless) are terrible, awful people,” Stokes said. “But, everyone comes from a different walk of life. Just because they’re in this situation, we can’t allow that situation to define who they are.”
Stokes said the GPD is allowing the Salvation Army to act as a liaison between the department and the homeless. She said it is important to ensure there are advocates who provide homeless people with resources available, such as shelters, methadone clinics and help with mental health.
Jason, who was one of the residents forced to leave the makeshift camp in the woods off Royall Avenue, found himself staying at the Salvation Army in the end.
“They just kicked us out. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go,” Jason said. “I never thought I would be in someplace like (the Salvation Army).”
Jason was initially confused when the police arrived, because there was no prior notice before they were asked to vacate. He said there were no trespassing signs posted in the camp area, either.
“They didn’t have to do what they did,” Jason said. “They could have posted no-trespassing (signs) and we would have left, but they came in at seven in the morning, wrote us all tickets and told us we all had three hours to leave.”
Given little time or notice before they were forced to leave, Jason said many people had to abandon their belongings because they couldn’t take everything with them.
When asked about littering, Jason said much of the trash in the camp was from the hurricane, which destroyed many of the houses. He said there was some crime, but he didn’t think all of the crime in the area was caused by people living in the camp.
“Not all of us are drug addicts. They try to profile everyone as drug addicts and thieves,” Jason said. “A lot of us are just there temporarily until we find a job and get back on our feet. It’s a place to live.”